Factors that affect child development and how to reduce negative impacts

Proper child development means that children meet developmental milestones. Research on child development has shown that various factors affect child development. This information is essential because it helps caregivers to ensure that their children reach developmental milestones. Otherwise, children may experience developmental delays which may affect their quality of life later if such anomalies are not treated. Caregivers can enhance child development by following proper practices. These include always monitoring and observing child development to ensure that normal milestones are reached. Second, if there are issues identified, following recommended therapeutic interventions can help. It is clear that various factors such as current trends and environmental factors affect child development. The factors increase the risk of delayed child development. They not only affect the development of verbal and non-verbal skills but also language delay, developmental delay, and cases of autism spectrum disorders among other age-appropriate anomalies. The purpose of this research was to evaluate factors that affect child development and how to reduce negative impacts by evaluating three child development topics. The study concluded that current trends and environmental factors affect child development. However, early detection through continuous monitoring and observing child development and the use of proper early screening approach can lead to effective interventions and positive outcomes.

Literature review

Impact of current trends on developing children and adolescents

Changes in family structures

Changing family structures are affecting cognitive and behavioral development among children. Changing family structures is among the current trends affecting developing children and adolescents. According to Crosnoe et al., (2014), changes in family structures are changing child care affecting child development. According to the authors, today’s marital lives are different compared to past decades. Today’s partnerships have histories including two and above co-residential union (Crosnoe et al., 2014). This means that marital lives are more fluid. The unsolidified lives can impact children negatively in terms of their wellbeing. Due to this potential impact, more attention has been directed on the impacts of changes in family structures on child development.

Existing research shows that children have a better experience when they live with married and biological parents Crosnoe et al., (2010). This is as opposed to when they live with a single parent, step-parent, or cohabiting parents. This preferred family setting provides necessary social support which is an advantage to children. Similar, family structures affect child development especially behaviourally. Crosnoe et al., (2014) studied changes in family structures on child care arrangements and their impact on children. According to the authors, the increase in maternal employment and changing notion on school readiness are reducing the time children spend with their parents. Instead, they are spending this time under early care arrangements. Crosnoe et al., (2014) wanted to find the link between changes in family structure and child care.

According to their study, changes in family structures change child care. For example, when a parent changes partner status, a child is more likely to experience a change in child care (Crosnoe et al., 2014). The child may experience a new type of child care, a different number of child care hours, and changing care arrangements. These changes can amplify uncertainty and stress in a child’s life. The changes have been used to predict behavioral problems in children (Crosnoe et al., 2014). Various studies have linked behavioral problems to negative outcomes of family instability.  This suggests that child care which is affected by changes in family structures affects child development. Mostly, its infants and toddlers whose development is affected by changes in family structures. According to Crosnoe et al., (2014), changes in family structures affect cognitive as well as behavioral development among children. These findings are similar to other studies that associate the development of behavioral problems among children with changes in family structures. 

Maternal employment

Maternal employment is affecting the social, cognitive, and emotional development of children. Maternal employment is the current trend. More mothers are going back to the job within the first year of birth. This is considering the fact that mothers’ employment whose rate has dramatically increased (Brooks-Gunn et al., 2010). Today, it is hard to find a stay-at-home mother. Instead, you will find a working mother. The working is starting shortly after a mother gives birth. This is affecting the relationship between mothers and their children. This is regardless of the fact that all theories recognize the importance of relationships in child development (Brooks-Gunn et al., 2010). In fact, theories identify attachment as an important element in a child’s emotional, social, and cognitive development. Additionally, parents play a great role in language and cognitive development among children. In short, parents have a major role to play in early childhood development. This is why researchers are studying the effects of parental employment on child development (Brooks-Gunn et al., 2010). This is especially maternal employment during the first year after birth. During this period, children are extremely dependent on their parents.

Prior studies have found a negative relationship between children’s’ poor performance and full-time maternal employment. Brooks-Gunn et al., (2010), used data from NICHD study on early child care in examining the link between maternal employment and emotional social, and cognitive outcomes on children. The study compared families where mothers worked part-time, full time, and did not work. It also focused on the timing of employment within the first 12 months (Brooks-Gunn et al., 2010). The study found positive impacts of maternal employment in the first 12 months in child development. The results were based on factors such as home environment and maternal earnings. However, the study also found some negative effects of maternal employment during the first 12 months in child development (Brooks-Gunn et al., 2010). For example, the study found that children whose mothers went to work after three months reported developmental problems compared to those whose mothers staying at home longer.

The study found that these children had teacher and caregiver externalizing problems at age 41/2 and in first grade. This suggests that maternal employment affects child development. According to Brooks-Gunn et al., (2010), mothers who worked part-time had better family scores compared to those who worked full-time in the first year of life. Their children also had better experiences. This indicates that the more time mothers spend with their children especially during the first year after birth the better. Brooks-Gunn et al., (2010) propose that mothers spend more time with their children especially the first year for positive emotional, social, and cognitive outcomes on their children.

Cognitive development in childhood through adolescence

Relationship between breastfeeding and cognitive development

There is an association between breastfeeding and cognitive development in children. There are many researchers that have assessed this association. They have shown that on average a more breastfed child has a higher IQ. Quigley et al., (2012), conducted a study on any breastfeeding and exclusive breastfeeding, and the association with cognitive development (Quigley et al., 2012). The study’s objective was assessing the association between breastfeeding and child cognitive development specifically in term and preterm children. A millennium cohort study with a representative sample was conducted. According to the study findings, breastfeeding especially, prolonged, leads to improved child cognitive development (Quigley et al., 2012). Even after many known confounders are allowed, still, prolonged breastfeeding had children perform better.  This shows that children who are breastfed will always be ahead of those who are not breastfed in terms of cognitive development.

These findings are similar to a meta-analysis that found that the average adjusted increase in IQ is 2.7 on children with ever breastfeeding and with normal birth weight. For those with low birth weight, the points were 5.2 (Quigley et al., 2012). There are other large studies that have found an association between cognitive development and breastfeeding. The authors associated the positive association between breastfeeding and cognitive development to polyunsaturated fatty acids in breast milk (Quigley et al., 2012). Breast milk tends to have high concentrations of important long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids compared to those found in formula milk (Innis, 2004). These ate considered important in brain development. This is more important for preterm babies (Quigley et al., 2012). Also, breast milk contains hormones and other growth factors. These are not found in formula yet they influence brain functioning and biochemistry development.

Other factors that may be associated with the positive impact of breastfeeding on cognitive development are; first, the interaction between a child and a mother during breastfeeding stimulates cognitive development (Quigley et al., 2012). Second, breast milk prevents infantile infections associated with the formula which may affect later cognitive development. According to Quigley et al., (2012), prolonged breastfeeding leads to higher scores in cognitive development. According to their study, failure to breastfeed a child leads to delayed cognitive development by months. For babies born preterm, breastfeeding is crucial. It leads to quantifiable improvement in cognitive development (Quigley et al., 2012). This research suggests that prolonged breastfeeding is essential for the cognitive development of babies.

Factors influencing cognitive development

There are various factors that affect cognitive development in children. Many studies have focused on the effects of environmental factors on intelligence. Most of these studies have found many environmental factors that influence cognitive development (Peyre et al., 2016). For example, factors such as parental income, home environment, and parental education have been found to strongly affect cognitive development among children. Others have found preterm birth to have effects on cognitive development. Others studies have found an association between breastfeeding and birth rank and children’s cognitive development. Peyre et al., (2016), conducted a study that aimed at determining whether early predictors of cognitive development affect some cognitive functions more than others.

The study assessed children between 5 and 6 years from the EDEN mother-child cohort through verbal and non-verbal cognitive tests. Structural equation modeling was used in examining the effects of various predictors on cognitive dimensions and in testing the different effects of these predictors in the cognitive dimensions (Peyre et al., 2016). They aimed at assessing the concern of whether some environmental factors have a specific influence on certain cognitive functions. Other studies have suggested that some general factors have certain effects on cognitive functions (Peyre et al., 2016). For example, some studies found that parental education influences verbal skills more than non-verbal skills. Others found preterm babies and those with low birth weight have visual and mathematical problems.  

Peyre et al., (2016) aimed at identifying the effects of environmental factors in verbal and non-verbal skills. According to the authors, various factors have different effects on cognitive development in childhood. First, home cognitive stimulation was more strongly associated with the development of verbal skills. Second, breastfeeding duration was strongly associated with the development of verbal skills. Third, parental education was associated with verbal skills (Peyre et al., 2016). This shows that prenatal education has a direct impact on children’s cognitive development. Fourth, the number of siblings affect children’s verbal skills. The older sibling effect is associated with the less undivided attention that parents give a child when they have many older siblings (Peyre et al., 2016). Therefore, the number of siblings also affects children’s cognitive development.

Peyre et al., (2016) used a latent variable approach to test the differential effect of certain factors on certain cognitive skills in a large cohort study. The study provided evidence that various environmental factors affect cognitive development in children. However, the authors showed that different environmental factors have different effects on cognitive development (Peyre et al., 2016). For example, breastfeeding duration and home cognitive stimulation affect verbal skills development more than non-verbal skills. One thing is clear though, various environmental factors affect children’s cognitive development (Centre for Disease Control, 2015). Every factor has certain effects. Other studies have also shown that different environmental factors influence children’s cognitive development (Peyre et al., 2016). The key finding is that these factors will have more effects on either verbal skills or non-verbal skills.

Age-appropriate milestones and anomalies

Achievement of motor milestones and associated factors

There is a certain developmental potential that children should reach at a given age. Development, in this case, refers to both quantitative and qualitative changes that occur in every child (Centre for Disease Control, 2015). This also includes crawling, grasping, first steps, and social smiling. However, most researchers study social skills, language, and fine motor skills. Any child who fails to reach a certain developmental milestone at a certain age is said to have delayed developmental milestones (Gupta et al., 2016). Across the world, millions of children fail to reach their developmental potential especially during their first five years. For example, in India, approximately 10% of children fail to reach developmental potential in early childhood (Gupta et al., 2016).  Some children fail to achieve gross motor milestones. Among these children, some achieve these milestones later in life. Others have permanent motor disabilities. This is especially evident in children with cerebral palsy which tends to show up clearly after five years (Gupta et al., 2016).

Early identification of delayed development is crucial for every child’s development. Early identification helps in giving children timely referrals for proper diagnosis, intervention, and treatment (Gupta et al., 2016). There are certain motor milestones that every healthy child should achieve at a certain age. The World Health Organization has developed such milestones. Parents and caregivers can use the information to assess children (Gupta et al., 2016). Various factors including nutrient intake, twin status, low socioeconomic status, and early gestational age are associated with delays in the achievement of developmental milestones.

Gupta et al (2016) conducted a study that aimed at assessing the achievement of gross motor development and associated factors among children in rural India. The children were between 4 and 18 months. The authors used a community-based cross-sectional study. A total of 221 children were used as the population sample while mothers were used as key informants. The study assessed developmental delays in six gross motor milestones (Gupta et al., 2016). According to the study, a section of the target population (6.3%) experienced developmental delays.

Others studies have found 3.5% to 10% in terms of the prevalence of developmental delays in children. The WHO reports that over 5% of children below 14 years of age experience a developmental delay. In India, the prevalence of developmental delay is 2% among children under 2 years. The study by Gupta et al (2016) found a low prevalence of delayed milestones compared to other findings of studies conducted in rural India. Still, the authors acknowledge that even the lower prevalence supports the need for early identification of delayed developmental milestones for effective interventions (Gupta et al., 2016). The authors propose an awareness campaign to promote timely identification of developmental delays.

Detecting, Studying and Treating Autism Early

Autism is one of the age-related disorders. Autism is characterized by social communication impairments and repetitive behaviors that show restricted interests (Luyster et al., 2009). There is also a deficit of motor tone in children with the disorder. It is a developmental disability that occurs with age especially at the onset of childhood. In most cases, autism is behaviorally defined and diagnosed (Pierce et al., 2011). This hinders the early diagnosis of autism in children. Most researchers use sibling design as an approach to studying autism. This approach holds that a mother with autism has a 5-10% chance of giving birth to a child with autism (Pierce et al., 2011). This research approach is important in science. However, the method can be biased as it only focuses on families that already have a child suffering the disorder.

Pierce et al (2011), conducted a study that focuses on determining the feasibility of implementing a broadband screen at the 1-year check-up for detecting autism cases, developmental delay, and language delay. The Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales Developmental Profile Infant-Toddler Checklist were distributed at every 1-year pediatric check-up. Screens were then scored (Pierce et al., 2011). A number of children screened during the study had autism. These findings are similar to current epidemiologic estimates which suggest that 65 infants of every 10000 will be diagnosed with autism by early childhood (Pierce et al., 2011). This shows the need to detect the anomalies earlier to ensure that babies are diagnosed and treated effectively.

The findings show that the 1-Year Well-Baby Check-Up Approach is better and simple in detecting such cases (Pierce et al., 2011). This is in comparison to the baby sibling design approach that is commonly used in detecting these cases. The new approach will help detect cases of autism as early as possible which is crucial for effective treatment. The 1-Year Well-Baby Check-Up Approach is promising considering that its implementation is almost cost-free to pediatric practices (Pierce et al., 2011). The approach can also be translated easily into clinical practice. The use of this approach is also supported by existing literature. According to this literature, earlier treatment contributes to more effective interventions (Pierce et al., 2011). Therefore, a screening program that would increase the chances of identifying babies at risk of autism or any other age-related disorder is good (Pierce et al., 2011). This is considering that such a program would ensure that a baby gets early treatment increasing the chances of positive outcomes.

Discussion

Child development refers to the physical, language, emotional, and thought changes that occur from birth through adolescence. During this period, children progress from extreme dependence on parents to independence. This development is influenced by different factors. These include genes and the environment. Parents or guardians and doctors can enhance child development through therapeutic interventions and proper home-based practices. It is important to observe and monitor child development to make sure that every child meets developmental milestones. Also, observing and monitoring developmental milestones can help in the early detection of developmental delays. This helps in minimizing the impact of the delays on skill development.

Based on the literature review, it is clear that there are current trends that are affecting child development. Such trends include changes in family structures and maternal employment. Changes in family structures are changing patterns of child care which eventually affects behavioral as well as cognitive development among children (Crosnoe et al., 2014). Similarly, maternal employment is affecting the social, cognitive, and emotional development of children. This is especially when mothers go back to work during the first year of life (Brooks-Gunn et al., 2010). For positive impacts on child development, mothers need to spend more time with their toddlers. Otherwise, there is evidence showing that children whose mothers report to work after three months of giving birth experience developmental problems. Mothers should, therefore, spend more time with their children especially during the first year for positive emotional, social, and cognitive outcomes on their children.

The literature review shows that various factors affect child development. One of these factors is breastfeeding. Many studies show that breastfeeding affects child development. The studies show that breastfeeding especially, prolonged, leads to improved child cognitive development (Quigley et al., 2012). Therefore, mothers should prolong breastfeeding their children to positively impact cognitive development of these children. Apart from breastfeeding, there are other environmental factors that affect child development. These include the number of siblings, parental education, and cognitive stimulation. The factors have different effects on child development (Peyre et al., 2016). For instance, cognitive stimulation, breastfeeding, and parental education are associated with the development of verbal skills.

Additionally, age matters when it comes to child development. For example, there is a certain developmental potential that every child should reach at a certain age. A child who fails to reach the development milestones is said to have developmental delays or problems. The World Health Organization has provided information on which milestones a normal child should reach at a certain age (Gupta et al., 2016). Caregivers should use this information to determine if their children are having developmental delays. Early identification is crucial for every child’s development (Pierce et al., 2011). It helps in giving timely referrals for proper diagnosis, intervention, and treatment. On the same issue of early detection, early detection of autism disorder is crucial for effective interventions (Gaetz et al., 2019). Better approaches such as 1-Year Well-Baby Check-Up can aid in early detection associated with effective interventions and better outcomes.

Conclusion

It is clear that various factors affect child development. Such factors include current trends like changes in family structures and maternal employment and environmental factors such as breastfeeding, number of siblings, parental education, and cognitive stimulation. The negative impact of these factors in children is development delays. This occurs when children fail to reach potential in development milestones. These factors affect the development of verbal and non-verbal skills. They also cause language delay, developmental delay, and a case of autism spectrum disorders. Caregivers can enhance child development through therapeutic interventions and proper home-based practices. However, this can only be possible by observing and monitoring child development. This ensures that children meet developmental milestones. Another advantage of monitoring and observing child development is the early detection of developmental delays. Early detection is crucial as it aids in the proper diagnosis and treatment of developmental anomalies. It also helps in reducing the impact of developmental delays in child development.

References

Brooks-Gunn, J., Han, W. & Waldfogel, J. (2010). First-Year Maternal Employment and              Child Development in the First Seven Years. Monographs of the Society for Research      in Child Development, 75 (2), 7-9.

Centre for Disease Control (2015). Developmental Milestones. Centre for Disease Control            and Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/

Crosnoe, R., Leventhal, T., Wirth, R. J., Pierce, K. M., & Pianta, R. (2010). Family            socioeconomic status and consistent environmental stimulation in early childhood. Child Development, 81(3), 972–987

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